Bill Gates tests higher education with competency

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates. Credit: Reuters
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who believes that competency is the way to make education work.
Credit: Reuters

When it comes to education, Bill Gates is no longer limiting his influence to K through 12. He’s moving into higher education — big time. A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Gates Effect”, revealed much about the goals of the Gates Foundation, largely unknown to the American public.

According to the Chronicle, since 2008 Gates has spent $343 million to encourage greater emphasis on “competency-based learning.” But the word “competency” is a well-known trigger of anger and vitriol from many professors.

“At the four-year level, where there’s an emphasis on the liberal arts and critical thinking, people tend to reject the idea of reducing the educational process to a set of skills or competencies. It feels reductionist to them,” explains Thomas J. Lasley, the former dean of the School of Education at the University of Dayton.

Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, puts it more bluntly:

“We’ve seen this play out already in K-12. If you’re measuring competence, you have to have data gathering, and if that data is high stakes – if jobs are on the line – then the class becomes about teaching to the test. It undermines classroom creativity and autonomy.”

But the No Child Left Behind flavor of “competency” isn’t the only approach out there. And some teachers are hoping to see a new, more flexible form emerge.

“It’s such a politically charged term – so polarizing – that it becomes difficult to discuss seriously,” says Stephen D. Brookfield, a longtime researcher of adult learning at the University of St. Thomas. “I think the devil’s the details. If the competencies that need to be achieved are open to negotiation, and if they can be adjusted to the student’s circumstances and preparedness, then competency-based learning doesn’t have to be the straight-jacket that critics of it assume.”

Educators weigh in on the increasing influence of the Gates Foundation on higher education:

“Higher education is largely very change-averse so we need large foundations, like Gates, to change things for the better. The best example is the increase in virtual learning opportunities. I don’t think higher ed on its own would have embraced that.”
– Thomas J. Lasley, University of Dayton

“There’s nothing wrong with a foundation generously giving to higher education. The problem comes in when we allow a foundation to substitute for our tax dollars, and that foundation gets to institute their agenda. They haven’t been elected, and yet they are determining the direction of public education.”
– Stephen D. Brookfield, University of St. Thomas

“Gates has never taught a day in his life. His children go to private school. And he feels he has the right to tell some of the hardest working people in the country that they’re doing everything wrong. He’s in no moral position to do that. The power he is wielding is profoundly undemocratic.”
– Mark Naison, Fordham University



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…